I'm the kind of person who thinks a lot about his relationships. The ones with his friends, his family, coworkers, strangers. I often wonder how I'm perceived. I wonder if I'd like me upon meeting me.
I've talked about my childhood quite a bit. One thing I've never pondered aloud is the idea that my parents didn't like me very much as a kid. I mean, they loved me, certainly, but I'm not entirely convinced they liked me. I'm sure I was an awfully confusing kid, often hard to figure out. Gosh, how they must have shaken their heads at my long list of quirks. Aside from being a good student, quiet around the house, and pretty darn funny, there were negatives: my deep insecurities reared ugly heads by way of scathing sarcasm and moodiness, I was shy, and a scaredy cat as coordinated as a walrus.
Having a gay son must feel something like the excitement of a new cell phone suddenly squashed by the realization that it has none of the features you were promised. It doesn't play catch or scale trees or help you dig a foundation for the shed that will house your collection of dirt bikes.
Instead it minces about the house in your wife's shoes and forces you to watch the Tony Awards annually. It whines and gets beaten up and prefers clean hands and tidy pleats in its pants. It's a dud in almost all the ways an average man wants his cell phone to be amazing.
And how annoying that must have been! To hear your son shriek maniacally, desperately, at the sight of a junebug crashing in on him. To watch him lug around his sister's Barbies or, in my friend Brian's case, entertain the request to cut the crotch from his shortalls in an effort to make a skirt.
The shame! The devastation!
The older I get, the more I come to realize the impact of that moment. Gay son. My poor Dad, the thrill of having a boy marred by his penchant for stationery supplies and short-shorts. It's not to say that a gay son is better or worse, but it would be naive to think that the average man (one who works hard and follows fairly conventional ideas of family) wouldn't be stunned and deflated by these constant reminders.
And, as years go by, I feel bad about that. Not that I could or would change anything (in fact, I probably would've come out when I was 7, just so the pink elephant would disappear), but I do feel great sadness that my dad didn't get that boy. I wouldn't blame him if he felt that way too. And I hope, if not today, someday he will like me the way I have learned to like him, for all the things he is and isn't.
(Above: My Dad as a boy, 1965 and me in '88. Would we have been friends?)